Scotland’s soft fruit crops are becoming increasingly vulnerable due to our changing climate and a “dramatic rise” in production costs, researchers warn.
The James Hutton Institute near Dundee has held its latest event, ‘Fruit for the Future’, aimed at offering solutions to farmers.
“The biggest cost for any soft fruit producer or grower is picking costs,” said Dr Susan McCallum, a blueberry researcher.
“These are increasing 10% year on year. Anything we can do to make sure the new varieties we are developing for the future, they’ve not just got the quality, the flavour and the yield that we’re after, but they’ve got climate resilience and plant establishment.”
The job for researchers at the James Hutton Institute is to consider how technology can help ease that.
One tool is a tractor, which uses hyperspectral imaging to monitor the health of several crops at once
“Every year in the blueberries alone, we have around 5,000 plants,” added Dr McCallum.
“To be able to analyse them throughout the season would be incredibly difficult for the small team we have.
“We can come up on a fortnightly basis and go up and down all the plants, looking at the different spectrum signatures.”
Farmers and suppliers have visited the James Hutton Institute to hear about their latest research on soft fruits.
That includes blackcurrants, of which 11,000 tonnes are expected to be produced across the UK this year.
Experts say there’s pressure on growers to meet that.
“They [retailers] want to maintain the sustainability of the production,” said Amanda De Moura, a blackcurrant researcher at the James Hutton Institute.
“The growers right now are facing lots of challenges with climate change, crop protection
“The breeding programme underpins this production.”